With almost 25,000 new cases this year, breast cancer ranks first in cancer incidence among all other cancers here in the Philippines, said the World Health Organization. In fact, the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development said one in every 13 Filipinas is expected to develop the disease in her lifetime.
Here at home, breast cancer screening is often seen as a burden. It also doesn’t help that there is a false belief that breast cancer is a sure killer, even if caught in the early stages.
The ICanServe Foundation, a breast cancer advocacy group in the Philippines, promotes early breast cancer detection, which encompasses education about breast cancer, breast self-exam (BSE), clinical exam, and mammography.
Citing the American Cancer Society, ICanServe suggests women should perform a monthly BSE by the age of 20, schedule an annual clinical exam upon turning 30, and have their annual mammography by the time they hit 40.
Alya Honasan, ICanServe member and veteran writer and editor, was diagnosed at 49. She shared, “I was lucky because it was detected early.”
Honasan has always had regular checks, but she stopped in 2011. When she found time again in 2013, her doctor discovered a lump that didn’t look benign.
Due to her early detection, and after having multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Honasan successfully completed treatment in 2014. In a recent interview, she said both post-treatment depression and support groups were important topics of treatment that are not often discussed.
“Of course, it’s normal to be depressed while you have it, but in my case, I was depressed after,” revealed Honasan.
A study published in 2005 found that up to 50 percent of women diagnosed with early breast cancer had depression and/or anxiety in the year after diagnosis; 25 percent in the second, third, and fourth years; and 15 percent in the fifth year. This may be attributed to factors such as adjusting to life after treatment and having worries about breast cancer recurrence, said Breast Cancer Care, a charity in the United Kingdom.
A number of treatments for depression are available, and Honasan found comfort in seeking professional help and therapy.
“It also helps that my psychiatrist is a cancer survivor, so we speak the same language,” she shared.
Aside from seeking professional help, having a support group around is essential during and after treatment—moms, daughters, and spouses are great point persons.
Honasan had fellow Bicol native and ex-Marine Ernesto Lozada, aka Kuya Kulot, who was assigned to her by her older brother and who drove her to and from chemo and work just like a true kuya or big brother.
“If I’m not done with work by 9:00 p.m., bubusina na nang bubusina yan sa labas (he would honk the horn repeatedly until I came out of the building). He was quite the disciplinarian but was also malambing (affectionate), always there to reassure me that I am loved,” related Honasan.
Aside from friends such as Kuya Kulot, work colleagues, and family, Honasan also had a spiritual group and ICanServe Foundation to lean on.
ICanServe’s flagship project, Ating Dibdibin (Take Your Breast Care to Heart), the Philippines’ first community-based breast cancer screening program, was launched in 2009 under the auspices of the American Cancer Society and with a grant from Pfizer.
Pfizer’s legacy in breast cancer spans nearly two decades, being a leader in awareness campaigns, advocacy partnerships, and pioneering treatments. Among its latest breakthroughs in research and development is a therapy targeted for specific mutations in breast cancer, which is a significant advancement in first-line treatment of breast cancer in 10 years.
“We believe that more than the breakthrough therapies that Pfizer develops, our success is also measured by how we are helping redefine life with cancer,” said Dr. Veronica Prasad, medical manager for Pfizer Oncology in the Philippines.
“We want the breast cancer community to know that they are not alone in their journey,” added Dr. Prasad.
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